`Babyface' far from end of the road

Theater: Singer/songwriter ventures into new territory: scoring the new stage play `Love Makes Things Happen.'

February 20, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

At 43, Babyface is beginning to show signs of age - laugh lines appear beside his eyes when he smiles, and he has a quiet thoughtfulness about him that comes with the years - but he's showing no signs of slowing down.

The 10-time Grammy winner, born Kenneth Edmonds, has spent the last decade writing songs for artists including Whitney Houston, Madonna, Pink, Aretha Franklin and the Backstreet Boys; putting out five albums; producing TV shows and films (Soul Food the movie and its spinoff series on Showtime, among others); and raising money for AIDS awareness in a joint effort with former President Bill Clinton.

Now he's in Baltimore kicking off his latest venture: producing and scoring musical theater.

"It's going to be pretty interesting," says Babyface, who still hadn't seen the finished product yesterday morning. "It's a whole different kind of thing."

The R&B crooner cum entertainment renaissance man has written movie soundtracks before (Get on the Bus, The Preacher's Wife), but never anything for the stage, where the performers aren't in a studio and the audience's reaction is immediate. But he says that's the best part.

"It's gratifying to see other people perform your songs. That's the main thing you look forward to as a songwriter," he says.

The play, called Love Makes Things Happen after the song on Babyface's 1991 album A Closer Look, is a romantic comedy about falling in love despite class distinctions.

It features music Babyface wrote, including "Whip Appeal," "End of the Road" (which won the Grammy for best R&B song in 1992), "It Hurts Like Hell" (from the soundtrack to Waiting to Exhale) and a new song written for the musical, "I Just Met Heaven."

The show premiered last night at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre and is the first in the new Urban Broadway Series created by its writer and director, David E. Talbert. The project, as Talbert sees it, will raise the bar on African-American theater by developing and touring high-quality, morality-based shows that feature black performers and big names.

"So many plays run like episodes of Where Are They Now?," Talbert says. "I want to feature current talent at the top of their game, the top Hollywood brass."

That's where Babyface comes in.

"You can't get bigger than Babyface," says Talbert, who's toured nine previous plays. "That's why it was important for the first project to be his. I've already gotten so much response from people because of his status and body of work."

Talbert hooked up with Babyface by inviting the singer's wife and business partner, Tracey Edmonds, to see one of his plays last year, The Fabric of a Man. After the show, Talbert pitched her his idea: marrying one of his plays, by then a year old, with Babyface's music.

His timing was right. Edmonds and her husband were looking to branch into theater.

"We explored the idea of taking something to Broadway," she says, "but it's so expensive and risky, and we didn't want to do it without being partnered with someone."

Impressed with Fabric of a Man and with Talbert, Edmonds had him fax her a copy of the play on which he wanted Babyface to collaborate. After reading it, she and her husband decided the play was the right vehicle for them to break into theater and that Talbert was the right partner.

"The way David writes as a playwright hits all the same points as my songs," Babyface says. "It just makes sense."

And it finally made sense for Talbert to launch the Urban Broadway Series, a project he'd wanted to do for a while but couldn't until he had a big name to back it up and get it off to a good start.

Talbert, a Washington native and Morgan State graduate, brought the series debut to Baltimore, he says, because if a play can make it here, it can make it on Broadway.

"Baltimore audiences don't play," he says. "If they love it, they'll cheer. If they don't like it, they'll let you know."

Love Makes Things Happen will head out on a 22-city tour after the show closes at the Mechanic on Sunday. The next play in the series is scheduled to launch in September and is co-written by Robert Townsend, director of B.A.P.S. starring Halle Berry.

Babyface's affiliation with the Urban Broadway Series ends with the play's rounds, but he's still writing songs and in the studio when he isn't managing his company, Edmonds Entertainment, or spending time with his two boys. Last year, he launched a new record label, Nu America (a collaboration with Arista), and his album Face2Face.

But as for what's next on his list of things to do, Babyface is open.

"If an opportunity comes up and I like it, I'll give it a stab," he says, "but it's always based from music and my love of entertainment."

SunSpot, The Sun's home on the Internet, will feature a live chat with Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds online tomorrow at noon. To participate, go to www.sunspot.net/edmondschat.

Love Makes Things Happen

Starring: R&B artists Kevon Edmonds (After 7) and Dawn Robinson (En Vogue, Lucy Pearl), and comedian Joe Torry

Where: Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, 25 Hopkins Plaza, Baltimore

When: Through Sunday. Tonight-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: $25 to $37.30

Call: 410-752-1200

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